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A Shadow Of Doubt Review

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An unhappy schoolgirl may or may not have been abused by her father.

★★★★

Alexandrine (Blancke), a sulky, anorexic 12-year-old, worries a teacher by writing an essay which suggests she is afraid of her father. On the teacher's prompting, the girl accuses her father (Bashung) of sexual abuse but immediately retracts her statement. A social worker gets involved, and Alexandrine's mother (Mireille Perrier) stands by her husband and her daughter, and, though she believes her husband innocent, tries to understand why her daughter has a problem. As the authorities decide to prosecute and Bashung is forced to move out of the family home, the crisis becomes acute.

This is a subject which would be handled by American filmmakers as an "issue-of-the-week" TV movie, but Issermann chooses to invent an archetypal story, synthesising aspects of many cases into an original drama. This has stretches which are almost surreal, as when Alexandrine and her baby brother run away from home to a noirish big city, to offset the intense personal drama.

Though it effectively puts off the "did he/didn't he?" revelation until very late and crucially never dramatises the incidents in question, this is obviously going to wind up upholding Alexandrine's accusations. Though it doesn't exonerate the abuser, himself a survivor of abuse, the finale quite movingly switches from Alexandrine's dilemma to that of her emotionally crippled father.

This is a powerfully cinematic film about a self-destructing family rather than a dry or sensationalist account of a touchy tabloid subject and is perfectly acted and sensitively directed.

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